Entering the final weekend of the regular season, No. 4 Florida baseball finds itself right where it wants to be: on top of the SEC East. The Gators (40-14, 21-7 SEC) claimed sole possession of that spot with their 9-6 win over Kentucky (24-29, 7-21 SEC) in the first game of a three-game series on Thursday night.
It's becoming almost predictable for catcher Mike Zunino to be the hero for the Gators every night. Zunino went 3-for-4, clubbed two homers, and drove in five RBI against the Wildcats. And Zunino's homers were game-tying and go-ahead shots; at this point, I'd almost be more surprised if the sophomore backstop and reigning SEC Player of the Week spent a game playing average baseball. (GatorZone notes that in his last three games, Zunino is batting .545 (6-for-11) with 12 RBI, five runs and five home runs: Those numbers are insane.)
Brian Johnson worked six innings and allowed five runs, but still got the win for Florida after Zunino's three-run blast in the bottom of the sixth. Austin Maddox earned the save with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
More on the ramifications of Florida's win after the jump.
The win gives Florida baseball the fifth 40-win regular season in school history, and the first since 1998; three of the last four Gators squads to eclipse that mark went to the College World Series. And Florida's win combined with South Carolina's loss means the Gators are alone atop the SEC East, one game ahead of both the Gamecocks and Vanderbilt Commodores. That would give Florida the top overall seed at next week's SEC Tournament.
And of those three teams, Florida likely has the best chance of sweeping this weekend's final series. Kentucky is far worse than South Carolina's opponent, SEC West-leading Alabama, and marginally worse than Vanderbilt's foe, Georgia. Plus, the Gators have their two most reliable starters remaining (PDF): Hudson Randall is slated to start Friday's game at 7 p.m. (TV: Fox Sports Florida), and unbeaten freshman Karsten Whitson should go on Saturday.
In other words, Florida has the inside track to a regular season SEC title. All the Gators have to do is win out.